This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Moz, Inc.
Over the past two years I have flipped and flopped on my stance on (not provided) keywords in Google Analytics. For a long time I took a stance against complaining about missing keyword data in GA by asking the question “Why Do You Care So Much About (not provided)?”
Then at some point last fall while I was hanging out with some of my fellow GACPs, their complaints about the data we were missing behind the fog of https: search results influenced me enough to join the ranks of (not provided) complainers.
Not Provided Trends from Not Provided Count
Fortunately, that was only short-lived. Knowing that (not provided) will eventually be 100% of our search keywords, I’m back to my old stance of saying “deal with it” when it comes to complaints about missing keywords in Google Analytics.
But how do we deal with it?
Let’s start with defining the problem. Keywords have long fueled everything in SEO. From research through ranking through reporting, our lives as search analysts have been about granular keyword data. While in recent years the most effective SEO strategies have grown to center around creating great content, much of the industry is still conditioned around keywords being at the center of the universe. For many, keywords are the universe.
While most practitioners are gradually coming around to the changes in Google’s preferences for ranking sites with high-quality content, we are also tasked with re-training all of those who have grown accustomed to receiving keyword data over the years.
Missing keyword data in Google Analytics is causing trouble for Internet marketers because our peers, bosses and clients are used to seeing this data in their reports. It’s almost as if we are Pavlov, our report recipients are Pavlov’s dog, and keywords are conditioned response.
Image found on The Thinking Blog
With a conditioned response to keyword data, it becomes tragic when it is taken away. When something is taken away, our instincts illicit a negative reaction. We are conditioned to behave this way.
The key to surviving is to give them more meat. Better meat!
We can do better than keyword reporting
While keywords have always been at the center of the SEO universe, reporting too heavily keyword data has long been a crutch for propping up weak and unoriginal marketing efforts. There are better ways to measure your organic search marketing performance, and many of them are already available for you within Google Analytics.
Instead of fixating on a handful of fat head keywords, it’s time to train executives to focus on what really matters to your business: how organic search brings revenue (and ultimately profit) into your organization.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to measuring search performance purely based on keyword data. What follows are 10 ways that you can prove the value of your SEO efforts in a (not provided) world.
I first gave this presentation in January, 2014 at Superweek in Hungary. For those of you who learn best by going through slides, you can view all of the slides here:
For those of you who would benefit from an explanation of what these slides mean, the rest of this post is for you.
What follows are 10 ways that you can use Google tools to prove the value of your SEO efforts, even after (not provided) reaches 100%. Some of these may seem obvious, while I’m hopeful that others will give you an “aha” moment.
1) Measure overall organic traffic over time
While search marketers may judge themselves by their abilities to rank for certain keywords, your organization will likely be judging you on two things: overall traffic and conversions. The good news is that if your site has been in existence for at least 13 months and you have goals configured in GA, you can work to prove your value by showing the recent growth that you have brought to the organization.
This can easily be done using the date comparison tool within Google Analytics. An executive in your organization may be used to seeing reports featuring information about individual keywords, but they will quickly forget about keywords if you can show them that you have grown organic search traffic by 200% year over year. The memory of keywords will be completely erased from their mind when they see the revenue growth of 150% year over year!
Revenue growth and profit erase the memories of keywords. Mind Eraser image from Wikipedia.
Executives are often compensated based on that same growth and profit. Showing them that you are a source of growth or profit for your organization is a key to obtaining more resources for your team, rising through the ranks of the organization and increasing your overall compensation.
Wouldn’t it be great if the loss of granular keyword data were the key to your personal financial gain?
2) Segment organic search traffic by landing page
Now that we understand how focusing on the end result is the best area to focus with our bosses and our bosses bosses, we have to deal with the reality that it’s very hard to optimize the ocean.
Knowing that you have tens of thousands of search visits to your site without any indicator of what drove them there is an ocean of useless data. That’s what we are dealing with when staring at a screen with (not provided) keywords.
Not exactly useful
Good news: there are multiple alternatives to looking at the view above. In fact, if you can probably skip this report entirely. The quickest and easiest solution to find some level of granularity in Google Analytics is to look at the Landing Page primary dimension while in the organic keywords report. This will give you a view of the pages on your site that are driving the most organic traffic.
In my case, I can see that there are several pages on my site that are drawing organic search traffic. Since I wrote these posts, I can tell exactly what each page is about based solely on the article URL. For example, the #1 traffic driver for me is a post I wrote about auto posting your content to social media. I wrote this post after growing super frustrated about a lack of information on the topic during my previous Google searches.
As is often the case with my blog, I tend to write lengthy posts on a topic after growing frustrated on the information that is currently showing up in online searches. If I have to view 10 search results pages to piece together the answer to my question, then there is a tremendous opportunity to outrank the existing articles by writing something more comprehensive.
My SEO strategy for Jeffalytics is to provide the best answer to a question that I recently struggled with myself. I rarely worry about keywords, because I am concentrating on providing the answer and not fixated on keywords. I also understand that much of the traffic coming to the site will be from the long tail.
Reporting on the success of your pages vs. individual keywords gives you a much quicker indication of what content is working. Amplifying what is working is a key impactor of future success.
In your case, you may find that the #1 landing page for your site is your home page by a large margin. This is common for established brands and the home page often represents a branded query. If you want to get advanced with your reporting, try inferring brand/non-brand to your landing pages based on the URL and reporting on each separately.
Note: I am sure that my blog would benefit from a stronger keyword focus, but I can only do so much as a single author hobby blogger.
3) Use landing pages as a secondary dimension
If you are accustomed to looking at the organic keywords report in GA, or if your (not provided) count is still providing valuable data, then you may want to view the landing page as a secondary dimension within this report. This can be easily done by choosing landing page as a secondary dimension within the keyword report.
4) Use filters to make (not provided) more meaningful
The first three suggestions we give for dealing with (not provided) work out of the box with your Google Analytics account. For those of you who are bold enough to experiment with filtering the data coming in through your website, you can combine the organic keywords and landing pages into a single field by creating filters for your views in Google Analytics. The good folks at Econsultancy provided an awesome guide on how you can steal some of your keyword data back using advanced filters in GA.
*Please note that when applying filters to your data it is highly recommended to only do this with a NEW VIEW. Do not apply to existing views to your site for two reasons: 1) You might screw up the filter, which could prevent your site from collecting data and 2) The filter is not retroactively applied, so there’s little advantage to applying to your main reporting profile anyway since you can’t do an apples to apples comparison.
By applying the following filter to a new view, your (not provided) keywords become more meaningful.
As you can see, the keyword not only becomes more meaningful, but it also frees up a secondary dimension for further analysis that would not be available to you otherwise. Think about all of the awesome analysis you can do now!
5) Use multi-channel funnels to prove value
Two areas that always suffer with last click attribution are organic search and social. This is because the visitors we receive from these sources are often at the top of the marketing funnel and don’t often purchase on the first site visit. While we may influence their future purchase with our company, it doesn’t always happen on the first date. It often takes a paid search ad, remarketing, email marketing or a direct visit to complete the buying process for these visitors.
Here is an example of how the content marketing funnel looks for a startup I am working with.
Notice how prominent organic search and content marketing are at the top of the decision process and how they tail off as people begin to make purchases. This is the type of behavior that many companies experience when trying to draw in new customers (note that this is a simplified picture and YMMV). The above funnel is based loosely on industry specific research provided by Think Insights.
The easiest way to understand whether your business is impacted by a similar decision making funnel is to look at the multi channel funnels functionality within Google Analytics. My favorite is the assisted conversions report, because it allows us to see very clearly whether any of our traffic driving channels are understated with last click attribution.
Understanding our last click + assisted revenue numbers can double the measurable impact of our organic search efforts.
6) Hook up with Google Webmaster Tools
The closest direct replacement to (not provided) keyword data is the integration between Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. By hooking up the two tools with each other, we unlock a wealth of keyword data that is slowly becoming more accurate.
While these reports are not available in Google Analytics out of the box, if you utilize the asynchronous version of the GA tracking code or Google Tag Manager, you can use these tools to verify ownership of your website through Google Webmaster tools. Once verified, you can connect the two products and have keyword data start rolling in to the Search Engine Optimization reports in Google Analytics.
From here you can begin to see impressions for individual keywords, clicks and click through rates for Google search. While I don’t find the information to be extremely reliable, the data is improving.
The key I have found once again to ensure accuracy is to once again look at the landing pages report as opposed to the “queries’ section. In my case, the queries section only shows 6,720 clicks from Google off 161,182 impressions while the Landing Pages report shows 28,139 clicks for the same 90 day time period.
This is actually very accurate when compared to my organic landing pages for the same time period:
The difference in my case is that they only show the top 1,000 queries, which does not represent all of the long tail keywords that drive traffic. On the other hand, since I don’t have close to 1,000 pages on this site, the top 1,000 landing pages do not get cut off by this limitation.
Some of this may be attributed to the changes Google made on December 31, 2013 to have more detailed search queries in Webmaster Tools.
Google Webmaster Tools data may not be perfect, but in many cases it is all we have.
7) Segment organic search traffic by demographics
If you are not using the new Demographics reports in Google Analytics, you are seriously missing out on some amazing data. You’re also not alone, because these reports are so new that very few people are using them to their fullest.
The demographic report data is provided by Doubleclick and requires you to utilize the dc.js version of Google Analytics in order to access the data. This may require changing the code on your site if you are not already using the dc.js version of GA to enable remarketing. It is also not compatible with Universal Analytics at the moment. For Google Tag Manager users it’s as simple as checking a box in your tag settings for GA.
For those of you who can navigate the above process and enable the reports, you can see some very cool data about who is interacting with your site. You can segment by the age range and gender of your visitors to understand who fits into your target market.
Better yet, you can create a secondary dimension that allows you to understand how an age range or gender performs by traffic source. Ever wonder whether males or females are better searchers? Do younger visitors convert better than older ones? You can answer these questions and adjust your search strategy based on the key demographics for your site.
8) Use dashboards to surface the most important metrics
I love that we can share dashboards, segments and reports between accounts in Google Analytics. This makes it easier to consistently work across accounts and also allows users to have access to the works of analytics professionals in the click of a button. One of these professionals is Dan Barker, who grew so tired of having keywords (not provided) in Google Analytics that he created a website with resources dedicated to dealing with the problem. His site, Not Provided Kit, provides 6 different add-ons that you can install into your Google Analytics account.
I especially like the custom dashboard that helps you understand some of the key information behind not provided keywords for your website. Brilliant!
For a wealth of custom dashboards and reports, I highly recommend that you check out the Google Analytics Solutions Gallery.
9) Paid and organic search reports in AdWords
Stepping outside of Google Analytics, these last two ways of dealing with (not provided) also come from Google. The first is utilizing the relatively new Paid & Organic keyword report in Google AdWords. This report marries data from your AdWords account and Google Webmaster Tools to help you understand where you have the best keyword coverage. This report helps you understand how often your site appears in paid and organic search for a given keyword that you are targeting.
If your company is heavily involved in both paid search and organic, you can get started by linking AdWords and Webmaster Tools. From there, I recommend reading How to Use Google AdWords Paid & Organic Report by Lunametrics.
10) Use Google Trends
If you are still interested in understanding the interest and performance of individual keywords over time, you can always utilize Google Trends to gain insights into the popularity of a keyword over time or compare the relative search volume for two similar terms. This data can help you understand if interest is growing or shrinking in recent times, as well as aid you in targeting one keyword over another in your content marketing efforts.
Now if only Google used their own tools to see how interest in not provided has grown 500% since it was introduced into our lexicon in 2011.
It’s time to come clean
When something is taken away from us, it’s hard not to react negatively to the change. As Avinash put it in his article about this very topic, you need to go through the five stages of grief to come out clean on the other side. It almost reminds me of Andrew Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption.
Andy Dufresne crawled through a river of (not provided) keywords and came out clean on the other side.
Free yourself of the burden of how things used to be. Keywords as you knew them are probably never coming back, so use this as an opportunity to advance your career, get paid more and make your company lots of money.
Hopefully these 10 tips will help you better understand where you can look to get at the data you need. Happy Analysis!
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